Next up Dhyana – meditation, or reaching a meditative state of mind. This seventh limb builds upon asana (the physical poses in yoga), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (moving our focus inwards), and dharana (concentration).
Our minds are interesting places. They create worries, concerns and often anxiety around experiences or future events that have yet to take place.
A central idea of mindfulness practice is that “you are not your thoughts and feelings” and you can choose to give them more or less value.
Patanjali tells us “yoga chitti vritti nirodha” – yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. So many of us experience this sweet sensation of stillness in Savasana after our asana practice, which keeps us coming back for more.
When we move with the breath, physical tension ebbs away and we allow the mind to settle – presenting us with moments of peace that we all need.
Dhyana is a similar practice. It asks us to surrender and let go of these fluctuations of the mind – moving towards a more truthful, happier and content version of ourselves.
When we practice the sixth limb, dharana, we are training our mind to stay focused, in dhyana, we take one step further and let go of the focus point while keeping our thoughts at bay.
It’s not easy, that’s for sure. But like our asana practice, when we dedicate ourselves to the practice and show up for class, change will happen.
Meditation and dhyana are slightly different in that meditation is often the use of a range of techniques to find stillness and peace, while dhyana is a state of being without being lost in thought.
What are the benefits of dhyana?
For thousands of years, those who practice dhyana or meditation have touted many physical and mental benefits.
In recent times, a growing number of scientific studies and research have corroborated that the practice has been proved to:
- Reduce stress
- Improve energy levels, concentration and sleep
- Lower blood pressure
- Enhance immune function
- Lead to increased feelings of happiness and wellbeing
- Slow aging due to changes in brain physiology
- Induce relaxation
- Increases social connection and decreases loneliness
- Lower risks of depression and anxiety
How to start practicing dhyana?
The ideal time to start is following an asana practice. Find a comfortable seat – sitting up crossed legged or supported by a wall – and make sure you’re in a quiet space with no interruptions.
Close your eyes and start to focus on the breath. Begin to relax each muscle incrementally. Starting with your feet, gradually release tension in your muscles going all the way up to the crown of your head.
Breathe deeply and if you’re holding tension anywhere, focus on that part of your body and try to release that tension before you continue on.
Turn your mind to your breath. Begin to clear your mind of all other thoughts and think only of your breathing. Breathe deeply and slowly through your nose and out through your mouth – filling your lungs from the top to the bottom.
Continue in this way for 10 to 20 breath cycles, keeping your mind focused on your breath. If any thoughts come in, which they inevitably will when we begin the practice, acknowledge the thought and then let it go, gently pulling your mind back to your breath.
Start practicing for just five to ten minutes each session, and lengthen the time from there.